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List of Acceptable Christmas Songs

Ho ho ho, Americans! The holiday season is upon us once again, like a giant baseball tarp beneath which we cannot move nor breathe. 'Tis a time of guilt and wasteful spending. A time of pent-up resentments between co-workers and relatives being voiced in the quality (or lack thereof) of the gifts presented to one another. A time of department stores prominently displaying plastic nativity scenes with PlayStation 2s in the manger. And parking problems galore!

And how about that Christmas music, eh? As you madly dash from one store to another in search of that portentious, creepy "Tickle Me Elmo Surprise" ("After January 10, when you find Elmo's most ticklish spot, he'll surprise you with a brand new way to play!" Have you seen these things?), what's more comforting than hearing a soused Dean Martin slur his way through "Jingle Bell Baby Rock" over the stores' PA systems over... and over... and over... and over? I'm kidding, of course. As you know, Willie works at Barnes & Noble, and he can certainly sympathize with the cringe factor of most Christmas music, since he has to listen to it not just while he's shopping for presents, but while he's spending eight straight hours explaining to people that it's highly unlikely that J.R.R. Tolkien will write a new Lord of the Rings book in time for Christmas. Every single day, it's the same musical loop: "Susie Snowflake," "A New York City Christmas," and more recent additions from retail worker nightmares like Christina Aguilera and 'NSYNC (or one of their ilk).

Frankly, it's deadening to listen to, don't you think? Even your basic songs like "Winter Wonderland" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" cease to fill you full of the holiday spirit when you're stuck in the middle of a shopping mall with frantic women and clueless men milling about. However, I noticed something: everyday, when John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" is piped in, every employee in our humble little bookstore just... stops. We cock our heads to better hear, take a deep breath, and smile as John's peaceful, sweet melody warms us. Even the crushing stress of the holiday shopping season cannot obscure the message of love in that song, and the effect is utterly rejuvenating. To that end, we would now like to present a list of Christmas songs that we hope will actually help you keep your spirits up and your sense of humor intact this season. No need to thank us. A copy of that Pink Floyd box set would be thanks enough.

By the way, we're calling it "Christmas music" only because that's the commonly-used term for the onslaught of winter-based songs that pokes you with sleigh bell-laden bayonets from late November until the new year. We mean no disrespect to our friends of other faiths (Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Bellini Day, etc; they're all great), but even secular holiday tunes like "Jingle Bells" are still mostly referred to as "Christmas music," so that's what we're sticking with. Also, if you know of any other holiday tunes that we haven't listed here, drop us a line and we'll download them to check 'em out. If we like them, we'll post them. Anyway, here we go:

Dump: "Another Lonely Christmas" From the wonderful album That Skinny Motherfucker with the High Voice?, James McNew's cover of Prince's story of holiday loneliness is a masterpiece. McNew's lo-fi yearning comes across as infinitely more sincere than Prince's arrogant cooing, and he exudes a genuine warmth as cozy as a yule log.

The Flaming Lips: "Christmas at the Zoo" This is actually a really great song about the spirit of giving- something Wayne Coyne is charmingly sincere about. However, the fact that the song is by the Flaming Lips (from the essential Clouds Taste Metallic) also means that there's a typically twisted story behind it; namely, a guy who decides that the nicest thing he could do to celebrate the spirit of Christmas would be to free the animals from the zoo! Hooray! It also happens to have the most invigorating chorus you'll hear during the winter months.

John Lennon: "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" If you don't know why, see the third intro paragraph above.

Olivia Tremor Control: "Christmas with William S." Okay, maybe "pleasant" isn't your thing. Maybe you're looking for a proper soundtrack to the sensory overload of a crowded mall. If that's your bag, check out this tape collage from the OTC's Singles and Beyond. It starts with some Christmasy church bells, but then regresses into a weird, choppy collection of noise bursts. Unlistenable? Some might call it that, sure, but is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra really any worse?

The Pogues: "Fairytale of New York" A pub-rocking Irish singalong that's quite pretty- stylistically, it's a welcome diversion from the Christmas standards- and that cheekily tells a breakup tale to go along with it: "Happy Christmas yer ass/I thank God it's our last." Throw it on if you're feeling particularly bitter about the whole season. From the album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

Ramones: "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" From 1989's Brain Drain, this is surprisingly sugary for the Ramones: Joey's in crooning mode as opposed to his usual, glue-sniffin' self, and those are sleigh bells you hear, but it's a cute song. It's the Ramones, for Pete's sake! Even the worst Ramones song is better than "Feliz Navidad" anyday, and this is far from their worst!

South Park and Ren & Stimpy songs If it's a cartoon Christmas album you're in the market for, Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics (from the South Park guys) and the Ren & Stimpy Christmas album (whose name I forget, and I'm on crutches right now, so I'm not going to run upstairs and dig through my old CDs to find it) are good, holiday-skewering fun. The South Park album has a number of enjoyably offensive songs (Mr. Garrison's "Merry Fucking Christmas" is a lot more clever than you'd think), but also a few straightforward numbers that will make you feel less guilty for listening to a song about the activities that the Virgin Mary could undertake and still technically retain her title ("The Most Offensive Song Ever"). The Ren & Stimpy album is more nonsensical, but still frequently hilarious, with top-notch songwriting to boot ("Yak Shaving Day" and "Decorate Yourself" would sound great at any time of year).

They Might Be Giants: "Santa's Beard" Don't bother with TMBG's recently released EP Holidayland- it contains only five songs, four of which have been previously released. Their best holiday song is still their first, from Lincoln, in which John Flansburgh bemoans the fact that his fictional wife is having an affair with a guy dressed as Santa. It's funny, and the Tubes-esque music ain't too shabby either!

Weddings Parties Anything: "Jolly Old Christmas Time" An a capella live recording from They Were Better Live, featuring typically raucous audience participation, by the late, great Aussie rockers. It's just a silly rant about the holiday season ("I stagger over to the comfy chair/I'm watching a show about a magical bear"), but the crowd's enthusiasm is infectious.

Kevin Bloody Wilson: "Hey Santa Claus" From the "profanity is intrinsically funny" school of comedy rock comes this fun little Australian story of a poor family (who can't afford Christmas candy, so "Dad would eat a peppermint and we'd sit around his tongue") whose kids get angry at Santa Claus for not bringing them what they want. Expletives abound, and you will giggle no matter how much you might think you're above such things. Available on Worst of Kevin Bloody Wilson.

XTC: "Thanks for Christmas" Originally released under the name The Three Wise Men, and collected (with the rather annoying "Countdown to Christmas Party Time") on Rag and Bone Buffet, this unironic mistletoe-tapper (sorry) has actually made its way onto some of the hipper retail Christmas loops. It's one of the nicest songs XTC has ever recorded, but thankfully, their melodic smarts keep this from becoming treacly.

"Weird Al" Yankovic: "Christmas at Ground Zero" A touch dated, since the Cold War is long gone, but Al's pitch-black tale of nuclear paranoia during the holidays is still a hilarious antidote to more typical Christmas fare: "It's Christmas at Ground Zero, there's panic in the crowd/We can dodge debris while we trim the tree, underneath the mushroom cloud." Check out the video too, if you get a chance. It's even more chillingly funny. From Polka Party.